Music Reviews
Clear Heart Full Eyes

Craig Finn Clear Heart Full Eyes

(Full Time Hobby) Rating - 7/10

I’ll be honest: I love The Hold Steady, but I can’t always tell that much difference from one song to the next. It’s the same formula, right? Raucous, unashamed classic rock, orated by a vaguely nerdy, extremely verbose frontman. But the fact that they’ve put out five critically-acclaimed albums is a testament to just how good that formula is - one that they can truly call their own.

The whole thing is, of course, held together by the lyrical brilliance of Craig Finn. He expertly strikes a balance between bombastic word porn and astute vocal hooks that more or less force you to nod your head in agreement. Even so, the nature of The Hold Steady’s music is such that it doesn’t have to be an intense listen: you can get almost as much out of it kicking back and just taking it in as you can listening intently to Finn’s tales unfold.

Clear Heart Full Eyes, on the other hand, demands closer attention. Whereas The Hold Steady may celebrate partying and excess, this sounds much more considered and introspective. With the help of a new backing band, here we see Finn slow down the pace with an altogether more sombre set of characters. All this places a lot more focus on the vocals, meaning you’ll get a lot more from this if you’re really listening to what he has to say.

Apollo Bay introduces the album nicely: a slow and subdued bassline and wailing lap steel gradually giving way to discordant distorted guitars, as Finn softly remarks: “My head was really hurting / I had to take it to Apollo Bay / All my down time makes me restless / All this small talk makes me nervous”. New Friend Jesus is another highlight - an upbeat, country-tinged rocker that tells the story of a new recruit to the Bible brigade (“People give me sideways looks when we set up on the strand / It’s hard to suck with Jesus in your band”). As ever, lyrical gems crop on a regular basis - and that alone gives the record a great deal of replay value.

If there’s any criticism of this album, it’s that the actual music occasionally creeps into old-hat territory. Terrified Eyes, in particular, is the kind of jolly country ditty you could imagine learning for your music GCSE. Make no mistake: these tracks aren’t meant to be taken entirely seriously, but that doesn’t make them any more exciting after a few listens. The Hold Steady this ain’t, but as far as new directions go, Craig Finn could have done much worse.